Courtney Vandersloot: The Dime Machine

The 2021 WNBA regular season came to an end on September 19th with several teams and players vying for statistical superlatives throughout the League’s 25th anniversary campaign.  Chicago Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot has been responsible for several key milestones in recent years:

  1. Breaking Ticha Penicheiro’s then-18-year old single-season assist record back in 2018
  2. Eclipsing the 300-assist mark for the first time in league history back in 2019
  3. Breaking the 10 assist-per game barrier last season in the bubble 
  4. Becoming the first woman to ever lead the WNBA in assists in four consecutive seasons in 2021

To put Courtney Vandersloot’s prolific playmaking into a historical perspective, in the past two seasons she has led the WNBA in assists by such a wide margin compared to the runner up, that nothing similar has been seen in either the WNBA or the NBA since that other Gonzaga playmaker, John Stockton in the mid 1990s. 

Taking a very literal approach to Vandersloot’s penchant for dropping dimes, the visualization below includes one for each of the 275 assists the former 3rd overall pick recorded this season.  

Though the aerial view paints a picture of Vandersloot’s exceptional ability to find open teammates anywhere on the floor, an isometric one shows just how prolific she has been creating shots around the rim. This season she had 57 more assists to finishers around the rim than any other player in the WNBA, demonstrating her unparalleled ability to deliver the ball inside for easy buckets.  

Vandersloot’s productivity in dropping dimes—in the truest sense—can be traced to her ability to manipulate defenses operating out of ball screens and the chemistry she has with her screeners. Predictably, Vandersloot led the WNBA in points created by passes out of ball screens, but the Sky’s rollers were also exceptional in their own right. 

The Sky’s screen-setters led the league in efficiency without a single player ranking in the top-10 in possessions used.  Stephanie Dolson, Ruthy Hebard, Candace Parker, and Azura Stephens combined to shoot an eFG% of 62% as screeners, providing the necessary shot-making to complement Vandersloot’s passing ability.

Taking a step back, the significance of the synergy between Vandersloot and her teammates this season can’t be understated. There is no better evidence of that than the Sky’s 71% assist percentage. Of the 316 WNBA teams to take the floor in the league’s 25-year history, only 3 have ever assisted on over 71% of their made shots: 

  1. The 2021 Chicago Sky, 
  2. The 1999 Charlotte Sting 
  3. The 1998 Cleveland Rockers

Becoming the first team in over 20 years to reach that benchmark says something about this specific group and the season they’ve had, even when compared to the other groups Vandersloot has quarterbacked in recent years. Ahead of their single game elimination matchup with the Dallas Wings, the Chicago Sky will no doubt be counting on their prolific playmaker to make things happen. 


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